21.08.2020 Mixing it up

Date: 21st August 2020
Location: Isle of Wight
Category: Foto Fridays

Creativity and cross-training

Moodling, unconscious processing, pondering, percolating, incubating – yes to all of these.
Photography – err, no!

I’ve been on and off in a funk for months now. I mean, who isn’t struggling with 2020 – honestly? For many of us, in amongst the broader issues of systemic racism and COVID-19, are personal financial worries and deep, unsettling uncertainty about our futures.

Staying creative and focused on my photography practice is challenging. Although I’m trying to use the tools I’ve developed over the years, the spark of joy either seems to be completely absent or intermittently there.

Everything sucks, some of the time

Mark Manson

It sure does!

Learning to tangle

Over the weekend I decided to learn how to zentangle (read about my first project here). Since Saturday, I have literally spent every free moment “tangling” – losing myself in the intricate connections between line, shape, pattern and the broader design.

It has enthralled me. My body has relaxed, I am calmer. As soon as I pick up my pens, I can feel the anxiety draining away. The emotions and thoughts have come and gone like clouds scuttling across a clear blue sky.

There has been no goal, no pressure to work towards an end product. The process of working with one tile (a section of the paper) at a time, moving onto another and then seeing how the whole pans out, means that I do not know ahead of time what the end product will be or look like – I’m just going with the flow. The absolute joy of completing the piece and seeing the how it hangs together is breathtaking. My body has tingled with excitement a few times this week!

Einstein was in the habit of “opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another” (he practised his violin) and called it “combinatory play” (or combinatory creativity). Some might call it “cross training”, where you engross yourself in or do something unrelated to your normal sport / hobby / creative outlet. Zentangling is so different to photography in so many ways, including the tools used to create. The thought processes are different too – rather than composing an image from what is around me, I am composing an image out of nothing.

And there’s more. It turns out that moodling, unconscious processing, pondering, percolating, incubating – those things I wrote at the beginning of the post) are part and parcel of the creative process. Google it – I guarantee you’ll find loads of info about it.

There’s a lot of neuroscience about why this works, but the basic idea behind this shifting of attention from one activity to another, is that it forces our neural pathways to make new connections.

Tangling and photography?

But what has all this got to do with photography? This is a Foto Fridays post after all.

I always say it – everything is connected! Here’s how this is working for me.

** One **
Shifting my attention off photography by learning and creating something else through zentangling will perhaps bring inspiration to my photography soemtime soon, if I trust that the process that worked for Einstein and hundreds of others works.

Hopefully, it will bring fresh perspectives and ideas. It takes the pressure off to to create for production (i.e. for posting and writing). So perhaps the biggest lesson here is as Liz Gilbert reminds us in Big Magic: “you are not required to save the world with your creativity“. It is enough to pay attention and engage in the creative process without the pressure to produce, be perfect and get a gazillion likes on social media.

** Two **
I have taken delight in tangling this week. I’ve centred myself through it, lost track of time and subconsciously processed what is going on in my life.

I feel lighter, brighter. It has lifted me out of my self-absorbed, “woe is me” state. Thank goodness for that. And, let’s face it – I have had FUN!

I have filled the hours with this new delight and with “such engagement that you don’t notice that the time passes” (Einstein, again!).

Real life work

I’ve said it before. It is all very well writing about creative practices when everything is going well, when inspiration and ideas are flowing.

But what happens in between those brightly, inspired moments – in the darker, low moments? If you read any of the body of work on creativity, you will discover that the answer is simply to keep on showing up. It’s about what I choose to do, to keep my shit together to get through these low moments. These choices will show me (I don’t care about showing others) how dedicated I am to my practice; if it is truly part of my life or just something I do when I feel good.

Show Up

Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding

Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)


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